Big Ben bongs sound for final time for four years | UK news

The bongs of Big Ben have sounded for the final time before they are silenced for a four-year period of restoration work on the Elizabeth Tower.

The tower is undergoing a £29m programme of renovation until 2021, but the prime minister and several MPs have raised concerns over the plan to silence the bell.

House of Commons authorities said workers would not be able to work safely next to the ringing of the 13-tonne bell – which will still sound on important national events, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday.

The Commons commission has said it will review the timescale after complaints were raised, including by Theresa May, who said it “cannot be right” for the bells not to chime for four years.

A handful of MPs gathered to mark the occasion ahead of the bell’s final chimes at noon on Monday. The Labour MP Stephen Pound said it would be a group of “like-minded traditionalists” gathered by the members’ entrance to the Houses of Parliament.

“We’ll be stood down there with heads bowed but hope in our hearts,” he told the Press Association.

Three Eurosceptic Conservative MPs – Jacob Rees-Mogg, Andrew Brigden and Peter Bone – have also called for the bongs to ring at midnight after the UK leaves the European Union on 29 March 2019.

People take selfies in front of Big Ben before the bell falls silent for a period of repair work. Photograph: Dinendra Haria/Rex/Shutterstock

Members of the public also gathered in Parliament Square to watch the final bongs, though much of the 96-metre-high Elizabeth Tower is already covered in scaffolding.

The Great Bell, the official name for Big Ben, traditionally rings every hour to the note of E, accompanied by four quarter bells that chime every 15 minutes. It is not the first time the bells have fallen silent: they were stopped for maintenance in 2007 and between 1983 and 1985.

Many MPs have distanced themselves from colleagues demanding a rethink of the restoration programme. Conservative MP Conor Burns said there had been “the most enormous amount of nonsense talked about this”.

“I look forward to getting back in September and back down to business and when you see the footage of our colleague who gather at the foot of Big Ben you will not see too many colleagues who have careers ahead of them,” he told the BBC’s Westminster Hour.

The clock is to be dismantled piece by piece, with each cog examined and restored, the glass repaired and the hands removed and refurbished.

Though the clock’s mechanism will also be dismantled, at least one clock face will continue to operate via a temporary modern electric system though scaffolding will cover three of the four clockfaces by the end of October.

The keeper of the clock, Steve Jaggs, said the silencing of the bell was a “significant milestone in this crucial conservation project” that would safeguard the clock on a long-term basis.

The Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, a member of the Commons commission, said it was prepared to look again at whether the bells could be rung more regularly to mark special occasions.

“The House of Commons commission has agreed to look at the issue when we’re back, and what I take that to mean is look at whether there is perhaps more scope for the bells to be rung on other ad hoc occasions,” he said.

Health and safety advisers have defended the decision to silence the bongs. A TUC health and safety expert, Hugh Robertson, said:At nearly 120 decibels, it’s like putting your ear next to a police siren. Protecting workers’ hearing is far from ‘health and safety gone mad’. It’s just plain common sense.”

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